Press Online button.If there is one idea I hope I’ve impressed upon you in writing about massive open online courses (MOOCs), it’s that, unlike instructor-led training and traditional elearning, MOOCs are highly flexible online learning environments. The popular media often refers to a MOOC as being just one kind of thing, and that one thing is usually associated with the types of MOOCs found on Coursera. But, this perspective doesn’t provide the full story—over the past year or so, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of experimentation and development of the MOOC, and today the acronym is an umbrella term that is used to refer to a wide variety of large-scale online courses.

In the corporate training world, there are three main distinctions that are meaningful when determining what style of MOOC to implement:

  1. Scheduled versus self-paced
  2. Moderated versus non-moderated
  3. Fully online versus blended (or hybrid)

In this post, we’ll look at each of these distinctions to help trainers decide what type of MOOC best meets the needs of their organization and their learners.

Scheduled versus self-paced

MOOCs can be either scheduled (they start on a particular date, have time-delineated activities, and end on a particular date) or self-paced (the learner starts the course at will and completes it according to his or her own schedule).

Use scheduled courses when:

  • Content needs to be delivered simultaneously across a group of learners. For example, when regulatory information changes, it is often necessary for everyone in a company to learn the new rules as quickly as possible.
  • Courses require learner collaboration. Although it certainly isn’t impossible to have collaboration in a self-paced course, if the course involves any group activities, it is usually desirable to make sure everyone reaches the same level of knowledge at the same time.
  • Courses are mandatory. If you want to make sure that all learners who are required to take your courses actually do so, use a scheduled format and use analytics features to track learners’ progress.

Use self-paced courses when:

  • Content is best delivered on an as-needed basis. One of the main advantages of MOOCs is the ability to have staggered start dates. For example, MOOCs are excellent for new-hire orientation, where they can provide consistent training even if one new employee starts every week. The self-paced format is also ideal for on-demand training as learners can access the resources they need at the moment they need them, rather than trying in November to remember the material from a seminar they attended in June.
  • Courses are optional. Providing optional courses in a self-paced format means that learners can take courses based on their own interests or when have identified holes in their current knowledge and skill sets.

Moderated versus non-moderated

MOOCs can be moderated (an instructor participates in course discussions and provides feedback to learners) or they can be non-moderated.

Use moderated courses when:

  • Instructors are internal SMEs or members of the training team. MOOCs are often taught by subject matter experts and then licensed to different companies for training purposes. In this case, it is not always feasible to have the instructors themselves moderate the courses. However, when a course is taught by an internal expert, there is a lot to be gained by having that expert available to answer questions and provide input for discussions.
  • Participation in course discussions is required. MOOCs may or may not have a social component, and even for those that do, that social component may or may not be required. If participation in course discussions is a mandatory activity, then having those discussions moderated by facilitator is recommended.
  • Content is complex and likely to generate questions. Moderated courses are better when the content is at a high enough level that learners may have trouble getting through it on their own.

Use non-moderated courses when:

  • Content is basic or consists mostly of tutorials. These types of content are less likely to generate many questions, so moderation may not be necessary.
  • Courses are self-paced. Most self-paced MOOCs are not moderated. In these cases, it is still recommended that learners have someone they can turn to for help or support if necessary.

Fully online versus blended

Finally, MOOCs can be delivered 100% online or in a blended online/in-person format.

Use fully online courses when:

  • It is not feasible for learners to meet. Only fully online courses can deliver training across geographical boundaries (and sometimes even across departmental boundaries).
  • 100% consistency is required. Consistency of in-person training varies between instructors, and it can even vary when the same instructor teaches different sessions of a course. When 100% consistency is required, such as for training on regulatory topics, use a fully online approach.
  • Budget is a main concern. Fully online courses are less expensive than blended courses since they don’t require any expenditures related to instructor time, travel, and so on.

Use blended courses when:

  • Parts of the course have only a small audience. There are times when different employees need different content, even within the same course. For example, new managers may be required to complete both the standard new-hire orientation and an advanced managerial orientation. If your company doesn’t train many new managers, then it is probably not cost-effective to use a MOOC for this aspect of the course. Instead, have all new hires complete the basic orientation online and then use instructor-led training for the advanced content.
  • Course activities benefit from face-to-face interaction. In some courses, though the content can be consumed online, the activities themselves are best done in person. For example, a course on how to give business presentations will be most effective if learners are given the opportunity to practice in person what they learn in the online portion of the course.

As you can see, MOOCs are flexible digital learning environments that can be easily adapted to meet your organization’s needs, whatever they are. The ability for the courses to be used in so many different ways is one of the main reasons I believe MOOCs will soon replace instructor-led training as the gold standard for workplace education.

Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance. Some have asked how to reach him. Here are some standard ways: Postal Mail: Bryant Nielson 54 Tenafly Road Tenafly, NJ 07670 Email: If you would like to contact me. Please do so via email by: clicking here. Telephone: (212) 335-0097